Posted at Dec 12 2018 12:40 PM | Updated as of Dec 12 2018 06:50 PM
MANILA - (UPDATE) Malacañang on Wednesday maintained that freedom of expression in the Philippines remains robust, after TIME Magazine named Rappler chief Maria Ressa as one of the 2018 "Person of the Year."
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it was TIME’s call to name Ressa as its Person of the Year.
“Certainly we cannot intrude into that. It’s not our turf. Whether we agree or not, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Asked about the state of freedom of expression in the country, Panelo said, “Obviously, since there are still critics attacking the administration, the freedom of expression is a robust one.”
“Nobody has been prosecuted for criticizing the administration. Those who have been charged are in connection not with freedom of expression but for commission of crimes,” he added.
ABS-CBN News Channel✔@ANCALERTSRappler president @mariaressa says Palace's statement on the state of freedom of expression in the PH is "untrue at best." #ANCRecap https://bit.ly/2Ei7MkL 125:57 PM - Dec 12, 2018
Rappler president @mariaressa says Palace's statement on the state of freedom of expression in the PH is "untrue at best." #ANCRecap https://bit.ly/2Ei7MkL
Speaking to ANC on Wednesday, Ressa said Malacañang's statements are "untrue at best."
"We've seen connections with the administration and the hate incited by people who are part or working with the administration," she said.
"It is now a tactic much like disinformation campaigns around the world," she added.
Earlier this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler Inc’s license to operate for allegedly violating the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.
On Tuesday, Ressa posted a P204,000 bail at the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) for three cases of failure to file tax returns and one case of tax evasion filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Ressa also maintained anew that charges against her and Rappler are "politically motivated."
"I'm not an enemy of the government. I'm just a journalist doing my job. Answer the questions, be transparent, be accountable then we'll move and be able to work together," she said.
Aside from Ressa, the TIME also picked slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, jailed Burmese journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and the staff of the Capital Gazette in Maryland, which lost 5 of its staff in an attack last June. They were collectively called as the “Guardians” of the truth.
The administration has been criticized for using the law against its critics, among them Senator Leila de Lima, who is currently detained on what she labeled as trumped up charges, and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who is also facing a slew of charges ranging from libel to coup d’etat.
Ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was removed from her post for failing to submit a complete set of her statements of asset, liabilities, and net worth, said on Tuesday that under President Duterte, the law seems to have become an “instrument of injustice.”
trantadongpinoy said:pero para sa akin kagaguhan ng time magazine mag award sa taong diumanong tax evader.
ON TUESDAY, Philippine journalist Maria Ressa was named as part of Time magazine’s Person of the Year , along with murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis and two Reuters reporters imprisoned in Myanmar. The accolade was timely, as well as well-earned: The same day, she was forced to meet bail to avoid being jailed on tax charges she says are trumped up.
Ms. Ressa returned to Manila this month despite the risk of imprisonment in a courageous demonstration of resolve to resist harassment and intimidation of her pioneering online news outlet, Rappler. She told reporters on her arrival: “The people who know me know that I am not radical, but government actions like this, it forces me to speak. I think all have to speak. . . . This is the time to fight. This is the time to tell people, here’s the line and you have to make sure that our government doesn’t cross it, ’cause when it does, we’re no longer a democracy.”
Rappler has pursued hard-hitting reporting to expose the abuses of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has conducted a violent campaign against suspected drug dealers and users, often with vigilantes and extrajudicial methods. Thousands of people have been killed, many of them summarily shot on the street. Mr. Duterte has picked up President Trump’s lingo of distrust and called Rappler a “fake news outlet.”
The government filed five cases claiming tax law violations by Rappler in raising investment funds through Philippine Depositary Receipts in 2015. This is a vehicle that allows foreigners to invest without ownership. Under the Philippine constitution, ownership of a mass media outlet must be all Filipino. The government’s indictment claims that the funds raised were income and Rappler failed to declare it.
Rappler says the use of the investment technique was legal and the tax charge is bogus. Ms. Ressa told The Post, “What the tax evasion charges did is to treat an investment like it was income. We’re not a dealer in securities. We’re not a stock broker.”
Ms. Ressa, a former CNN bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta, Indonesia, on Nov. 8 received the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award from the International Center for Journalists and on Nov. 20 received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, where she delivered a clarion call for our times:
“You don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight to defend it. Then every battle you win or lose, every compromise you choose to make or to walk away from — all these struggles define the values you live by, and, ultimately, who you are. We at Rappler decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could: We did not duck, we did not hide. We are Rappler, and we will hold the line.”
When Maria Ressa realized she was about to be arrested for doing her job,
she reacted in the manner she had learned reporting from conflict zones
throughout her 33-year career in journalism: she took a deep breath and
assessed the best way to proceed. The situation was manageable, the
charges could be overcome, and Ressa, as she had done countless times
before, says she resolved to “hold the line.”
“I’ve been a war zone correspondent, I’ve planned
coverage when one side is shooting against the other side,” the 55-year
old told TIME in New York a few days before she returned to the
Philippines and on Dec. 3 handed herself in to authorities. “That is
easy compared to what we’re dealing with now.”
What Ressa and her colleagues are dealing with is “a
direct assault on press freedom in the Philippines” according to the
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Less than two weeks after the CPJ presented her with an international Press Freedom award,
the veteran journalist and former CNN bureau chief posted bail for
charges of tax evasion. She is expected to be arraigned February next
While the Philippine government denies a political
motivation for the charges against Ressa and Rappler, the news site she
founded in 2012, international observers regard them as the latest salvo
in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bid to muzzle critical press and silence
criticism of his administration’s deadly war on drugs.
For Ressa they are symptom of an even deeper malady
in the Philippines, which she describes as “ground zero” in the global
war on disinformation. “The kind of civil discourse that used to be
necessary for democracy—one, we all agreed on facts, two, we actually
exchanged ideas—this is gone,” she says.
When Ressa founded Rappler in 2012, the country’s
social media environment was opening up new possibilities for civic
engagement. The site created a Mood Meter that allowed audiences to log
their emotional responses to stories, and its cadre of young tenacious
reporters drove millennial engagement with the news.
Back then Facebook counted 29 million Filipinos among
its user base, or a little under a third of the population. Today the
social media giant’s grip on the country is near absolute: in part due
to subsidies that make Facebook free to access on mobile phones, it has
almost 70 million users—or 97% of the Philippines’ Internet-connected
But the ease with which the Duterte administration has used social media to manipulate public opinion,
and what Ressa sees as the tech giant’s failure to protect its users
from manipulation, have fundamentally changed relationships between the
news and those who consume it. “Technology has no morals and values,”
Ressa says, “And the group that actually figured out how to use it and
weaponize it, are the authoritarian style leaders.”
Shortly after Duterte’s election, Rappler began
investigating how the Duterte campaign built a network of domestic and
overseas social media users who disseminated inflammatory and sometimes
fake content created by a team of bloggers.
Two of the team’s most prominent “influencers,” pop
star and sex advice columnist Mocha Uson and populist blogger R.J.
Nieto, were given official roles in Duterte’s administration after he
took office. Although both have since resigned their posts, they were
accused of singling out and smearing journalists who reported on
extrajudicial killings, setting off a cascade of online trolls that
harassed them with rape and death threats on Facebook.
“The exponential attacks on social media, the
inciting to hate just for doing your job,” says Ressa. “You have no idea
when it erupts into real-world violence.”
While real world violence has long been an occupational hazard in the Philippines—the National Union of Journalists estimates 177 reporters and media workers
have been killed since 1986—Duterte made it clear reporters would be at
mortal risk under his watch. Shortly before he took office on a promise
of wiping out crime and corruption, he told journalists in his
heartland Davao City they too could become targets of assassination if found to be a corrupt “son of a ****.”
Now, Rappler and its founder are paying the price for
reporting on Duterte’s regime — just as the president’s critics and
opposition leaders have been jailed on flimsy premises. Senator Leila de
Lima, a fierce critic of Duterte’s drug war, was arrested in February 2017 and charged with drug offenses
Amnesty International called “pure fiction.” “The lesson is if you want
to criticize and oppose Duterte, you can do so behind bars, but not as a
free citizen,” de Lima told TIME from her jail cell in September.
Ressa says the Philippines, where dissent can lead to
jail time, and where nobody can put a precise figure on the number of
people killed in the drug war (estimates of human rights groups range
between 12,000 and 30,000 deaths) should be a “cautionary tale” for the
U.S. “With a global platform that connects all of us, you can see there
is a playbook,” she says, “in the crosshair of controlling the public
narrative are journalists.”
Crosshairs or not, Ressa is determined to hold the line.